ARLINGTON, VA. — An executive of the USA Rice Federation on Nov. 18 said the federation has not seen any science that supports new results from Consumer Reports showing potentially dangerous arsenic consumption when children eat rice.
“Arsenic in our food supply is a challenging, yet unavoidable, situation, which is why we support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration studying the issue carefully,” said Betsy Ward, president and chief executive officer of the Arlington-based USA Rice Federation. “But CR’s new consumption recommendations aren’t supported by any science that we’ve seen.”
Consumer Reports originally released a report on arsenic in rice in 2012. Most recently Consumer Reports examined data released by the F.D.A. in 2013 on the inorganic arsenic content of 656 processed rice-containing products.
Consumer Reports found rice cereal and rice pasta may have more inorganic arsenic (a carcinogen) than the 2012 data showed. The new tests from Consumer Reports showed one serving of rice cereal or rice pasta could put children over the maximum amount of rice that Consumer Reports recommends they have in a week.
“Rice cakes supply close to a child’s weekly limit in one serving,” Consumer Reports said. “Rice drinks also can be high in arsenic, and children younger than 5 shouldn’t drink them instead of milk.”
Arsenic has two chemical forms: organic and inorganic. Organic may be less toxic, according to Consumer Reports. Regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic has been shown to increase the risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to Consumer Reports.
Scientists from the F.D.A. in 2013 determined the amount of detectable arsenic is too low in rice and rice product samples to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects. Ms. Ward said the rice industry, labs at land grant universities and the F.D.A. have tested U.S.-grown rice extensively. The rice has been found to contain arsenic levels that are below safe maximum levels established by the World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization’s Codex Alimentarius.
Consumer Reports also investigated arsenic levels of different types of rice and other grains, including gluten-free grains. Scientists at its Food Safety and Sustainability Center tested 128 samples of basmati, jasmine and sushi rice for arsenic. Results were combined with the results of 2012 tests and F.D.A. data on arsenic in rice for a total of 697 samples of rice.
“Our latest tests determined that the inorganic arsenic content of rice varies greatly depending on the type of rice and where it was grown,” Consumer Reports said. “White basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan and sushi rice from the U.S. on average has half of the inorganic arsenic amount of most other types of rice.”
All types of rice (except sushi and quick cooking) with a label indicating it’s from Arkansas, Louisiana or Texas or just from the United States had the highest levels of inorganic arsenic in the tests. For instance, white rices from California had 38% less inorganic arsenic than white rices from other parts of the country.
Brown rice has 80% more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type, according to Consumer Reports. Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers, which are removed to make white rice. Brown basmati from California, India or Pakistan is the best choice since it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than brown rice from other areas, according to Consumer Reports.
The USA Rice Federation said it still is analyzing the new Consumer Reports data and that if found the regional claims perplexing.
“All the tests we’ve seen show that levels of inorganic arsenic are lowest in U.S.-grown rice, regardless of what state it came from,” said Michael Klein, a spokesperson for the federation.
He said few, if any, rice packages identify the state where the rice was grown.
“We’ve seen levels vary from plot to plot and field to field,” he said. “So making blanket statements about one state versus another is totally unscientific, disingenuous and misleading. Analyzing toxins in food is not the same as analyzing which television gives you the best picture in a well-lit room. CR should let the F.D.A. continue its careful scientific evaluation and make the recommendations to the public.”Consumer Reports also looked at the inorganic arsenic levels in 114 samples of non-rice grains. The gluten-free grains amaranth, buckwheat, millet and polenta or grits had negligible levels of inorganic arsenic. Gluten-containing grains bulgur, barley and farro also had very little arsenic. Gluten-free quinoa had average inorganic arsenic levels comparable to those of other alternative grains, but some samples of quinoa had “quite a bit more.”